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EGGS-CEPTIONAL EGGS

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Eggs can be . . . eggstra-ordinary. Cracking the shell opens up a world of cooking pleasure.

Known for its versatility, the egg can be prepared in dozens of ways - most of which are quick, easy and inexpensive. From the simplicity of a scrambled egg to the French-inspired brioche, from the frittata to the souffle, from the cheese-stuffed omelet to the quiche, eggs break through every chapter of a recipe book.Despite biodegradable compact packaging, concentrated nutritional value and amazing versatility as a foodstuff, the egg is often a maligned commodity. Caught in the cholesterol trap, eggs raise questions for those concerned with healthful-eating issues.

Actually, the primary determinant of blood cholesterol is the type of fat in the diet, not dietary cholesterol, explains Dr. Donald McNamara, a University of Arizona researcher who's studied how the body handles dietary cholesterol.

"Dietary cholesterol has an impact in about a third of the population whom we call `non-compensators,' because their bodies lack a normal regulatory response to high cholesterol intakes," he says. "But in the majority of people, cholesterol metabolism is well balanced so that either the body produces less or excesses are excreted."

Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture tests indicate today's egg is 22 percent lower in cholesterol and 10 percent lower in fat than was once the case. The average large egg contains 213 milligrams cholesterol, instead of the 274 previously ascribed to it - a 25 percent decrease.

The American Heart Association alters that message somewhat and suggests that we limit our diet to four eggs a week, a better overall balance in the diet.

Reduction of cholesterol levels can be achieved by replacing egg yolks with egg whites in cooking. Two egg whites substitute for a whole egg in many recipes. Even omelets can be made with egg whites only by adding a tablespoons of oil and seasoning, though a more satisfactory omelet is created with a combination of whole eggs and egg whites.

Gathering a basket of eggs, whole or separated, provides eggs-citing opportunities for creative cooking experiments.

(Additional information)

Recipes listed:

Basic Puffy (Souffle) Omelet

Egg Enchiladas

Eggs Fantastic

Zucchini-Mushroom Frittata

Basic French Omelet